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There may be no better way to deal with ups and downs everyone faces in life than to consider the principal figures of the Bible. Few of us have to deal with the ups and downs of a Job, but we all have them. The truest, most faithful servants of God lived through hard times as well as good. One way to help ourselves navigate rough waters is by remembering that difficulties may not reflect God’s displeasure—often don’t, in fact.
Consider Moses. He wanted to know his people and their trouble, not keep himself comfortably in privileged ignorance. He “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” the writer of Hebrews says (Heb 12: 24-25 NASB). It isn’t clear what “the passing pleasures of sin” refers to here, but given the character of the Pharaoh God overthrew in the Red Sea, we can assume there were plenty of opportunities in his kingdom for all of that. True, Moses killed the Egyptian mistreating his fellow Hebrew, but his bent toward social justice was probably commendable. If pride, privilege, and temper betrayed him, better motives led to that crime of passion.
Moses then exiled himself to the wilderness of Midian, where he kept his father-in law’s sheep for decades. He named his first-born son Gershom, saying: “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land” (Ex 2: 22). Foreign land? Egypt was no homeland of the Hebrew people, but Moses clearly missed it. Maybe there was something in this the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wanted to correct. However we see it, God would use Moses to get the people out of there, and he would speak to Moses “face to face as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33: 11a). God wasn’t finished with him, even as thismurderer left Egypt, fleeing the law.
The story of Joseph, an earlier Hebrew hero, is another tale of ups and downs. Though he did nothing worse than childishly brag to jealous brothers about a prophetic dream in which they bowed to him, they sold Joseph into slavery. There he diligently served the Egyptian who bought him but, whenfalsely accused by this man’s wife, was imprisoned till he wasthirty (Gen 41: 46). We read one revealing line about this man: “the LORD was with Joseph” (Gen 39: 2, 3, 5, 21, 23). Even Pharaoh recognized it and said: “Since God has informed you of all this [i.e., a coming famine and how to prepare for it], there is no one so discerning and wise as you are” (Gen 41: 38). The prophetic dream was fulfilled, and Joseph, now second only to Pharaoh in authority, had a day of reckoning and reconciliation with his brothers. The household of Israel and Egypt survived the famine, and Joseph gained anew Egyptian name, in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, Salvatorem mundi, “Savior of the World.”
King David experienced ups and downs. He was abrilliantly successful officer in the king’s army, yet his life was constantly threatened by Saul, still the ruler. Samuel,obeying God, had already anointed David king, but he was forced into the Judean Wilderness to escape. The psalms of David record this faithful man’s suffering. When he grievedGod, as well as anyone who reads the story, by causing the death of a loyal officer whose wife he’d taken, Psalm 51 reveals David’s heart-felt repentance. He is acknowledged as Israel’s greatest king and known as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13: 14), sinner though he was.
New Testament saints had shocking ups and downs. Peter, who with James and John was one of Jesus’ chosen three and later a leader of the church, denied his Lord three times. The Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, who would become Paul the missionary, first and greatest of them, was guilty ofimprisoning and torturing Christian men and women before he met the living Christ on that Damascus Road. Jesus was threatened with death as an infant, suspected and hounded by adversaries as an adult then accused of blasphemy, wrongfully sentenced, and crucified before emerging alive from that tomb. Such ups and downs are beyond ours!
Joseph said something to his brothers we can bear in mind in troubling times: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50: 20a). The Bible tells us that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Heb 12: 10a).